E-tolls in Gauteng will cripple South Africa’s economy, the Justice Project SA said on Monday.
“This will cripple the economy of Gauteng and indeed South Africa as a whole,” JPSA chairman Howard Dembovsky told public hearings in Midrand on the impact of e-tolls.
“It will create the socio-economic disaster of the millennium and we will see people hanging themselves from these beautiful gantries.”
He said people who were prosecuted for not paying tolls would have a criminal record, which would affect their livelihoods.
This could mean people losing their jobs, going to jail, or getting into debt to pay the fines.
Dembovsky presented the panel with three case studies to show the impact tolls would have on people who had not paid tolls or bought e-tags.
“[If people go to jail] we will then have successfully completed the cycle and turned artificial criminals into real criminals,” Dembovsky said.
Not only would non-payers have to pay the outstanding fees, but also civil penalties of R1000 for each gantry passed.
He said the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) was “partially correct” about people not paying for e-tolls.
Sanral has said not paying e-tolls was both a traffic and criminal offence and people would be prosecuted.
Dembovsky told the panel a Sanral official had said South Africa would become a “banana republic” if tolls were not paid.
“We said to them whatever you’re smoking we want some, because these are a lot of offences.”
He said as from May 31, R1.1 billion in e-toll fees had not been paid and of the 2.5 million people who used the highways under the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), only half had been registered.
Sanral waited too long to start the prosecutions, he said.
E-tolls should be scrapped and a fuel levy should be introduced.
“If e-tolls is retained, at least hundreds of thousands of e-toll offenders will be prosecuted,” he said.
Neither Sanral nor the National Prosecuting Authority could decide whether to prosecute an offender or not, he said.
“They don’t have the discretion to select a few cases in order to set examples.
“We also don’t live in Egypt. The courts may not hold mass trials. It is highly likely that court cases might take days to complete.”
Dembovsky said if a fuel levy of 14 cents/litre was introduced Sanral would be able to repay its debt sooner.
Sanral in general was good at building and maintaining good roads and should manage national, provincial, and local roads, Dembovsky said.
He said e-tolls should be scrapped and replaced with a “true user-pays principle”.
“If we don’t do it we are heading for an epic socio-economic disaster.”
The hearings are expected to address the economic and social impacts of the GFIP and e-tolls. The panel is expected to present a report of its findings to premier David Makhura at the end of November.
Civil society was making presentations at the hearings from Monday until Wednesday.